New Zealand South Island

Want to discover the best things to do when visiting South Island New Zealand?

Nestled in the cool, crystal-clear waters of the southwestern Pacific, the South Island of New Zealand stands as a testament to nature’s artistry and human history’s resilience.

Known for its breathtaking landscapes, ranging from lush rainforests and serene beaches to rugged mountains and deep fjords, the South Island offers an unparalleled tapestry of natural wonders.

This region, larger of the two main islands of New Zealand, captivates visitors with its unique blend of dramatic scenery, rich Maori culture, and pioneering history.

The cultural significance of the South Island is deeply rooted in both Maori tradition and European colonization, creating a vibrant tapestry of heritage that’s as diverse as its landscapes.

From the sacred pounamu (greenstone) found in its rivers to the tales of Aoraki/Mount Cook in Maori mythology, the South Island holds an essential place in the cultural heart of New Zealand.

As a tourist destination, South Island New Zealand is unmatched in its ability to offer a wide array of experiences.

Adventure seekers can find thrills in Queenstown, the adrenaline capital of the world, while those in search of tranquility can explore the countless, secluded bays of the Marlborough Sounds.

History enthusiasts will revel in the preserved Victorian architecture of Dunedin and the gold rush heritage of the West Coast, while wildlife lovers can observe rare species in their natural habitats, from the Otago Peninsula to the remote Stewart Island.

The South Island’s allure is not just in its activities but in the profound connection it fosters between visitors and the natural world.

Here, you can witness the power of glaciers carving through landscapes at Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, marvel at the clear night skies in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, and savour the flavours of world-renowned wines in the Marlborough region.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the 12 best things to do in South Island New Zealand:

1. Explore Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park

Nestled in the southwest corner of the South Island, Fiordland National Park is a cornerstone of New Zealand’s natural heritage.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site encapsulates the raw, untouched beauty of the wilderness, making it a must-visit for nature lovers and adventurers alike.

Within its expansive borders lie some of the most stunning landscapes on earth, from towering mountain peaks and deep fjords to vast rainforests and shimmering lakes.

Milford Sound: Cruising, Kayaking, and Scenic Flights

Arguably the jewel in Fiordland’s crown, Milford Sound offers an awe-inspiring glimpse into the heart of the park’s natural beauty.

Rudyard Kipling once dubbed it the “eighth wonder of the world,” a title it lives up to with its majestic waterfalls, towering cliffs, and the iconic Mitre Peak.

  • Cruising: Embark on a cruise to navigate the deep, serene waters of Milford Sound, offering up-close views of waterfalls cascading hundreds of meters into the fjord and wildlife sightings, including dolphins, seals, and penguins.
  • Kayaking: For a more personal encounter with the fjord, kayaking provides a tranquil and immersive experience. Glide across the water’s surface at your own pace, enveloped by the towering mountain faces.
  • Scenic Flights: Take to the skies with a scenic flight over Milford Sound and the surrounding Fiordland National Park. This unparalleled vantage point showcases the grandeur of the landscapes, revealing hidden lakes, mountain passes, and the vast wilderness inaccessible by foot.

Kepler and Routeburn Tracks: Hiking Opportunities

Fiordland is also home to some of New Zealand’s most famous hiking trails, offering adventures through some of the world’s most enchanting wilderness areas.

  • Kepler Track: A 60-kilometer loop that takes you through a diverse range of landscapes, from lush forests and serene lakes to high ridges with panoramic views. This track, which usually takes three to four days to complete, is a great way to experience the biodiversity of Fiordland.
  • Routeburn Track: Linking Fiordland National Park with Mount Aspiring National Park, the Routeburn Track is a 32-kilometer journey through ancient forests, alpine gardens, and alongside crystal-clear rivers. Over two to four days, hikers are treated to some of the most dramatic alpine scenery in the country.

2. Adventure in Queenstown


Queenstown, nestled on the shores of the crystal-clear Lake Wakatipu and set against the dramatic backdrop of the Southern Alps, is the undisputed adventure capital of South Island New Zealand.

This vibrant town is a playground for thrill-seekers and nature enthusiasts alike, offering a plethora of activities that push the limits of excitement and adventure.

From heart-stopping jumps to exhilarating rides on the water and snow, Queenstown is a destination where adrenaline and natural beauty meet.

Bungee Jumping, Skydiving, and Jet Boating

  • Bungee Jumping: Queenstown is the birthplace of commercial bungee jumping, and a leap from the historic Kawarau Bridge is a rite of passage for many visitors. For those seeking even more thrills, the Nevis Bungee, one of the highest in the world, offers a 134-meter plunge into the Nevis Valley.
  • Skydiving: Experience the ultimate freedom and adrenaline rush with a skydiving adventure over Queenstown. As you free-fall from up to 15,000 feet, the panoramic views of Lake Wakatipu, The Remarkables, and the surrounding landscapes are nothing short of breathtaking.
  • Jet Boating: For a high-speed water adventure, jet boating on the Shotover and Dart rivers offers an exhilarating ride through stunning canyons. Expert pilots navigate the boats at thrilling speeds, performing spins and turns that will leave you breathless.

The Remarkables: Skiing and Snowboarding

The Remarkables mountain range, living up to its name, provides an exceptional setting for winter sports enthusiasts.

With its accessible location from Queenstown, The Remarkables ski area offers a variety of trails for all skill levels, from gentle slopes for beginners to challenging terrain for advanced skiers and snowboarders.

  • Skiing and Snowboarding: The area is equipped with modern lifts and excellent facilities, including terrain parks and a designated learning area. The high altitude and southerly aspect ensure quality snow conditions throughout the season, making it a top destination for winter sports in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Scenic Beauty: Beyond the adrenaline and challenges of the slopes, The Remarkables also offer some of the most spectacular alpine scenery in South Island New Zealand. Taking a moment to appreciate the panoramic views from the mountain peaks is a must-do experience, providing a serene contrast to the excitement of the slopes.

3. Witness the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

The South Island of New Zealand is home to some of the most accessible glaciers in the world, offering visitors the unique opportunity to explore these ancient rivers of ice.

Nestled within the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are among the most breathtaking natural wonders in the region, showcasing the dynamic nature of our planet’s climate and geology.

Guided Glacier Walks and Helicopter Tours

  • Guided Glacier Walks: Embarking on a guided walk on either Franz Josef or Fox Glacier is an experience like no other. These walks provide an up-close look at the intricate blue ice formations, crevasses, and seracs that make up the glacier’s surface. Trained guides lead the way, sharing insights about the glaciers’ histories, the surrounding ecosystems, and the effects of climate change on these frozen landscapes.
  • Helicopter Tours: For those looking to capture the grandeur of the glaciers from an aerial perspective, helicopter tours offer an unforgettable adventure. These tours not only provide panoramic views of the glaciers but also often include landings on the ice, allowing visitors to step out and experience the icy terrain firsthand. The bird’s-eye view of the glaciers, nestled among the rugged peaks of the Southern Alps, is a sight to behold and offers a unique vantage point that ground-based tours cannot match.

Importance of Glaciers in the Local Ecosystem

The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are not only stunning to behold but also play a crucial role in the local and global ecosystem.

They act as natural reservoirs, storing freshwater in the form of ice and releasing it gradually throughout the year.

This process supports rivers and lakes downstream, providing essential water supplies for wildlife and human communities alike.

Moreover, the glaciers are vital for understanding climate change, as their retreat over time offers clear evidence of global warming’s impact on our planet.

The glaciers also contribute to the biodiversity of the region, supporting a range of habitats from the alpine zones at their peaks to the temperate rainforests at their bases.

This diversity makes the area around the glaciers a hotspot for scientists studying ecology and climate change, as well as a captivating destination for nature lovers.

Exploring the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers in South Island New Zealand is a poignant reminder of nature’s beauty and power, offering awe-inspiring experiences that bridge the gap between adventure and education.

Whether trekking across the glacier’s surface or viewing it from above, visitors leave with a deeper appreciation for our planet’s natural wonders and the urgent need to protect them.

4. Experience Maori Culture in Canterbury

Maori Culture in Canterbury

Canterbury, a region at the heart of the South Island New Zealand, not only offers breathtaking landscapes but also serves as a vibrant canvas for the rich tapestry of Maori culture.

The Maori people, whose heritage shapes much of New Zealand’s cultural identity, invite visitors to experience their traditions, art, and histories in ways that are both educational and deeply moving.

Cultural Shows and Traditional Maori Hangi Feast

  • Cultural Shows: Canterbury’s cultural shows provide an immersive introduction to Maori traditions, including powerful performances of the haka (a traditional Maori war dance), beautiful song renditions (waiata), and captivating storytelling that weaves through the myths and legends of Aotearoa (New Zealand). These performances offer a window into the soul of Maori culture, celebrating its strength, unity, and resilience.
  • Traditional Maori Hangi Feast: One of the highlights of Maori culture is the hangi, a traditional method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven. This slow-cooking process imparts a unique, smoky flavor to the food, making it a must-try culinary experience. Participating in a hangi feast is not just about enjoying delicious food but also about understanding the communal spirit of Maori culture, where sharing a meal is a way to forge bonds and express hospitality.

Art and History in Christchurch

  • Art: Christchurch, the largest city in Canterbury, is a hub for Maori art, showcasing both traditional and contemporary works. From intricately carved pounamu (greenstone) jewelry to modern Maori paintings and sculptures, the city’s galleries and markets offer a glimpse into the creative legacy and evolving artistic expressions of the Maori people.
  • History: Christchurch and the wider Canterbury region are steeped in Maori history, evident in its many historical sites, museums, and exhibitions. The Canterbury Museum, for example, houses an extensive collection of Maori artifacts, including waka (canoes), weaving, and tools, providing insights into the daily lives, craftsmanship, and ingenuity of the Maori ancestors. Visiting these sites offers a profound understanding of the Maori’s enduring connection to the land and their pivotal role in New Zealand’s story.

Experiencing Maori culture in Canterbury is an invitation to connect with the heart and soul of New Zealand.

Through cultural shows, traditional feasts, art, and history, visitors to South Island New Zealand are offered a unique opportunity to engage with the traditions and stories that have shaped this land for centuries.

It’s an experience that enriches the mind and nourishes the spirit, leaving a lasting impression of the beauty and depth of Maori cultural heritage.

5. Wildlife Watching on the Otago Peninsula

Otago Peninsula

The Otago Peninsula, jutting out into the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean from the eastern coast of South Island New Zealand, is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts.

Renowned for its rugged coastline and diverse habitats, the peninsula offers some of the best opportunities for close encounters with rare and endemic wildlife species.

From the majestic albatross soaring overhead to the elusive penguins waddling along the shore, the Otago Peninsula is a testament to New Zealand’s commitment to conservation and nature preservation.

Royal Albatross Centre and Penguin Place

  • Royal Albatross Centre: The Otago Peninsula is home to the only mainland breeding colony of the Royal Albatross in the world. The Royal Albatross Centre provides visitors with the rare opportunity to observe these magnificent birds up close. With a wingspan reaching up to three meters, the sight of a Royal Albatross gliding over the ocean is truly awe-inspiring. The centre offers guided tours that educate visitors about the albatross’s life cycle and the conservation efforts to protect these graceful giants.
  • Penguin Place: Penguin Place is dedicated to the conservation of the endangered Yellow-eyed Penguin, one of the world’s rarest penguin species. Through guided tours, visitors can safely observe these shy birds in their natural habitat, from the viewing hides and tunnels designed to minimize human impact. The experience is not only a chance to see the penguins up close but also to learn about the conservation work that goes into ensuring their survival.

Wildlife Cruises and Kayaking

  • Wildlife Cruises: To fully appreciate the biodiversity of the Otago Peninsula, embark on a wildlife cruise along its shores. These cruises offer encounters with a variety of marine life, including fur seals, sea lions, and dolphins. Knowledgeable guides provide insights into the behavior and habitats of these animals, making it an educational experience as well as a scenic one.
  • Kayaking: For a more hands-on adventure, kayaking around the Otago Peninsula puts you at water level with the local wildlife. Paddling through the clear waters, you may find yourself accompanied by curious seals or even have the chance to spot penguins along the coastline. Kayaking offers a peaceful and intimate way to connect with the peninsula’s natural inhabitants, all while surrounded by breathtaking scenery.

The Otago Peninsula is a wildlife lover’s paradise, offering unparalleled opportunities to witness some of New Zealand’s most iconic species in their natural settings.

Whether visiting the Royal Albatross Centre, exploring Penguin Place, setting sail on a wildlife cruise, or gliding through the waters by kayak, the experiences here underscore the importance of conservation and the wonder of the natural world.

For anyone traveling to South Island New Zealand, a visit to the Otago Peninsula is an essential and unforgettable adventure.

6. Star Gazing at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

Star Gazing at Aoraki

Nestled in the heart of the South Island, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is not only celebrated for its towering peaks and glaciers but also as one of the premier stargazing sites in New Zealand.

Recognized as part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, the park offers some of the darkest skies in the world, free from light pollution.

This pristine environment provides visitors with a rare opportunity to gaze upon the stars and other celestial phenomena with unparalleled clarity.

Dark Sky Reserve: Stargazing Tours and the Southern Lights

  • Dark Sky Reserve: The International Dark Sky Reserve designation is a testament to the exceptional quality of the night skies over Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. The reserve’s efforts to minimize light pollution ensure that stargazers can enjoy a night sky brimming with stars, planets, and galaxies.
  • Stargazing Tours: To fully appreciate the celestial wonders above, stargazing tours led by knowledgeable guides offer an insightful experience. These tours often use high-powered telescopes to bring the cosmos into focus, allowing you to witness the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter, and the milky swirl of distant galaxies.
  • The Southern Lights: Although less well-known than its northern counterpart, the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, can occasionally be seen from the park. These displays of vibrant colors dancing across the night sky are a result of solar winds interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field, creating a natural light show that is both mesmerizing and unforgettable.

Hiking Trails with Breathtaking Views

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is also a hiker’s paradise, boasting trails that cater to all levels of fitness and adventure.

These hikes offer not only physical challenges but also some of the most breathtaking views imaginable.

  • Hooker Valley Track: One of the most popular walks in the park, the Hooker Valley Track, offers a relatively easy hike that rewards adventurers with stunning vistas of Aoraki/Mount Cook, suspension bridges, alpine streams, and the Hooker Glacier Lake.
  • Sealy Tarns Track: For those seeking a more strenuous challenge, the Sealy Tarns Track is a steep climb that leads to spectacular views of the Hooker Valley and the surrounding mountains. Known as the “Stairway to Heaven,” this track provides a rewarding experience for those willing to tackle its many steps.

Stargazing at Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park offers an unparalleled opportunity to connect with the universe on a profound level, while its hiking trails invite you to explore the majestic landscapes of South Island New Zealand.

Whether you’re peering into the depths of space or marveling at the natural beauty around you, a visit to the park is a journey through the awe-inspiring splendor of our planet and beyond.

7. Wine Tasting in Marlborough

Wine Tasting in Marlborough

Marlborough, nestled in the northeastern corner of the South Island New Zealand, is celebrated globally for its viticulture, especially its Sauvignon Blanc.

This sun-drenched region’s cool climate and fertile soils create the perfect conditions for vineyards to thrive, making it a must-visit destination for wine enthusiasts.

Exploring Marlborough offers a delightful journey through scenic vineyards, captivating wine tastings, and insights into the wine-making process that has put New Zealand on the world wine map.

Guided Tours of Vineyards and Wine Tasting Sessions

  • Guided Tours: Embarking on a guided vineyard tour in Marlborough allows visitors to immerse themselves in the region’s lush landscapes and learn about the wine-making process from grape to glass. These tours often include visits to several wineries, where experts share their knowledge of viticulture and the unique characteristics that make Marlborough wines stand out. It’s an educational and sensory journey through rows of grapevines, with the opportunity to taste a variety of wines directly where they are produced.
  • Wine Tasting Sessions: Wine tasting in Marlborough is not merely about sipping and savoring; it’s an experience that engages all the senses. Sessions often include a selection of the region’s finest wines, with a focus on its world-renowned Sauvignon Blanc. Tasting these wines in the very heart of their origin, visitors can detect the subtle notes and flavors that are influenced by Marlborough’s unique terroir. Paired with local gourmet produce, these tastings offer a harmonious blend of flavors that capture the essence of the region.

The Significance of Sauvignon Blanc to the Region

Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc is celebrated for its distinctive taste, characterized by its intense aromatics and crisp acidity.

This varietal has played a pivotal role in defining New Zealand’s wine profile on the global stage, making Marlborough the largest wine-producing region in the country.

The success of Sauvignon Blanc has not only bolstered the local economy but has also led to a burgeoning wine tourism industry, drawing visitors from around the globe eager to sample this signature wine.

The impact of Sauvignon Blanc on Marlborough and New Zealand’s wine industry is a testament to the region’s innovation and dedication to excellence in winemaking.

Wine tasting in Marlborough offers an unforgettable journey through a landscape imbued with passion, tradition, and innovation. From the educational vineyard tours to the exquisite tasting sessions, visitors gain a deep appreciation for the art of winemaking and the region’s contribution to the world of wine. A visit to Marlborough is a highlight for any trip to South Island New Zealand, promising an experience that delights the palate and enriches the spirit.

8. Adventure Activities in Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park, located at the northern tip of South Island New Zealand, is a paradise of golden beaches, clear turquoise waters, and lush coastal forests.

As New Zealand’s smallest national park, it packs an incredible array of landscapes and activities into its compact size, making it a favorite destination for both relaxation and adventure.

The park offers a unique blend of physical challenge and natural beauty, perfect for those looking to immerse themselves in the great outdoors.

Kayaking and Cruising Along the Coast

  • Kayaking: Exploring Abel Tasman National Park by kayak is an experience like no other, offering the chance to glide quietly along its shores, exploring hidden coves and secluded beaches. Kayaking allows for an up-close view of the park’s vibrant marine life, including seals basking on the rocks and dolphins occasionally seen in the waters. Various kayaking tours cater to all levels of experience, from half-day excursions to multi-day adventures that include camping along the pristine beaches.
  • Cruising: For those who prefer to take in the sights without the exertion, cruising along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park offers a relaxed way to witness the stunning scenery. Boat cruises navigate the length of the coastline, providing panoramic views of the park’s highlights, including Split Apple Rock and the seal colonies of Tonga Island. These cruises often include stops at various points along the coast, allowing passengers to disembark and explore the beaches and trails.

The Abel Tasman Coast Track: One of New Zealand’s Great Walks

The Abel Tasman Coast Track is renowned as one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks,” a 60-kilometer trail that winds its way along the coastline, offering hikers breathtaking views at every turn.

This well-maintained track can be completed in 3 to 5 days, with comfortable huts and campsites available for overnight stays.

The trail passes through native forests, across suspension bridges, and along beaches of golden sand, making it accessible to walkers of moderate fitness levels.

What makes the Coast Track unique is not just its stunning scenery but also its flexibility. Various access points allow for shorter day walks, and water taxis can transport hikers to different sections of the track, making it possible to customize the walking experience to suit individual preferences and time constraints.

Adventure activities in Abel Tasman National Park encapsulate the essence of South Island New Zealand’s natural beauty and the spirit of exploration.

Whether paddling through the waters in a kayak, enjoying the coastal views from a cruise, or trekking the Abel Tasman Coast Track, visitors are guaranteed an unforgettable experience that highlights the park’s unique landscapes and biodiversity.

9. Visit the Historic City of Dunedin

Dunedin City

Dunedin, located on the southeastern coast of South Island New Zealand, stands as a testament to the country’s rich cultural heritage and architectural grandeur.

Known as the “Edinburgh of the South,” Dunedin is proud of its Scottish heritage, which is reflected in its well-preserved Victorian and Edwardian architecture.

The city offers a journey back in time, combined with a vibrant arts scene, making it a unique destination for visitors seeking both history and culture.

Victorian and Edwardian Architecture

Dunedin’s streetscape is a showcase of architectural excellence, with beautifully preserved buildings that speak volumes of the city’s prosperity during the gold rush era.

The Octagon, at the heart of Dunedin, is surrounded by impressive historic buildings, including the Dunedin Town Hall and St. Paul’s Cathedral, which exemplify the city’s architectural heritage.

Walking tours of the city are available, providing insights into the history and stories behind these magnificent structures.

One of the most iconic examples of Dunedin’s architecture is Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle, boasting a unique blend of Scottish baronial and Gothic revival styles, set against the backdrop of the Otago Peninsula. The castle’s history, gardens, and panoramic views make it a must-visit.

The Dunedin Railway Station and Speight’s Brewery

  • The Dunedin Railway Station: Often referred to as the most photographed building in New Zealand, the Dunedin Railway Station is a masterpiece of Edwardian architecture. Its distinctive Flemish Renaissance style, ornate details, and beautiful stained-glass windows are a sight to behold. The station is not only a historical landmark but also serves as a gateway to scenic railway journeys, including the famous Taieri Gorge Railway, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes.
  • Speight’s Brewery: A visit to Dunedin would not be complete without experiencing its brewing heritage at Speight’s Brewery, one of New Zealand’s oldest and most beloved breweries. Established in 1876, the brewery is an integral part of Dunedin’s cultural identity. Tours of the brewery provide an insight into the brewing process, the history of beer-making in Dunedin, and, of course, the opportunity to sample some of the finest ales.

Visiting the historic city of Dunedin offers a glimpse into South Island New Zealand’s architectural splendor and cultural depth.

From its stately Victorian and Edwardian buildings to iconic landmarks like the Dunedin Railway Station and Speight’s Brewery, Dunedin invites travelers to explore its rich heritage and enjoy its contemporary charm.

10. Take the TranzAlpine Train Journey

TranzAlpine Train Journey

Considered one of the world’s great train journeys, the TranzAlpine train offers an unforgettable rail experience across the heart of South Island New Zealand.

Connecting Christchurch on the east coast with Greymouth on the west coast, this scenic journey is a spectacular way to witness the diverse landscapes of the South Island, from the comfort and convenience of a train carriage.

Scenic Rail Journey from Christchurch to Greymouth

The TranzAlpine train journey begins in the garden city of Christchurch, winding its way through the patchwork fields of the Canterbury Plains before ascending into the majestic Southern Alps.

The journey covers 223 kilometers, taking approximately 4.5 hours to complete, and offers a unique perspective on the South Island’s changing topography.

Passengers on the TranzAlpine are treated to panoramic views through large picture windows, ensuring an immersive experience of the stunning scenery.

The journey includes stops at quaint alpine villages and provides opportunities for breathtaking photographs, especially as the train crosses the dramatic viaducts and bridges along the route.

Views of the Southern Alps and Arthur’s Pass

The highlight of the TranzAlpine train journey is undoubtedly the passage through Arthur’s Pass National Park.

As the train climbs to its highest point at Arthur’s Pass, passengers are surrounded by the rugged beauty of the Southern Alps, with snow-capped peaks, deep gorges, and cascading waterfalls.

Observation cars allow travelers to feel the crisp alpine air and take in the unobstructed views of the alpine landscape, including the spectacular Otira Gorge.

The journey through this part of the South Island showcases the raw, untamed beauty of New Zealand’s wilderness and provides a serene yet exhilarating travel experience.

Upon reaching Greymouth, the western terminus of the journey, travelers find themselves on the doorstep of the West Coast’s rainforests, glaciers, and the wild Tasman Sea coastline.

Greymouth serves as a gateway to further exploration of the South Island’s natural wonders, including the nearby Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.

The TranzAlpine train journey is more than just a means of travel; it’s an adventure that captures the essence of South Island New Zealand’s majestic landscapes.

Whether you’re a nature lover, a photography enthusiast, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life, the TranzAlpine offers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty and diversity of the South Island.

11. Discover the Golden Beaches of Nelson

Golden Beaches of Nelson

Nestled at the top of the South Island, Nelson shines as a beacon of natural beauty, artistic fervor, and relaxed beach life.

Renowned for its sunniest days in New Zealand, Nelson is a destination where golden beaches meet a vibrant arts scene, making it a unique spot for both relaxation and cultural exploration.

The region’s natural beauty and its dedication to the arts and crafts make it a must-visit location on any South Island New Zealand itinerary.

Kaiteriteri Beach and the Abel Tasman National Park

  • Kaiteriteri Beach: Often lauded as one of the best beaches in New Zealand, Kaiteriteri Beach boasts golden sands and crystal-clear turquoise waters, making it a perfect gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. The beach serves as a departure point for kayaking tours, water taxis, and cruises exploring the coast of the national park. Its shallow waters are ideal for swimming and paddleboarding, making it a family-friendly destination.
  • Abel Tasman National Park: Just a stone’s throw from Kaiteriteri, the Abel Tasman National Park offers an idyllic landscape of pristine beaches, native bush, and wildlife. Whether hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, or exploring secluded bays by kayak, visitors can immerse themselves in the park’s natural beauty. The park’s clear waters and protected marine reserves also offer excellent opportunities for snorkeling and diving.

Art Galleries and Local Crafts

Nelson’s commitment to the arts is visible in its numerous galleries and craft studios, which celebrate the creativity and craftsmanship of local and national artists.

The region is particularly known for its pottery, glassblowing, jewelry, and textile arts, with many artists drawing inspiration from the surrounding landscapes.

  • Art Galleries: The Nelson Provincial Museum and the Suter Art Gallery provide insight into the region’s history and contemporary art scene, showcasing collections of traditional and modern works. For a more hands-on experience, visitors can explore the many studios and workshops open to the public, offering a chance to see artists at work and to purchase unique, locally made pieces.
  • Craft Markets: Nelson’s vibrant craft markets, such as the Nelson Saturday Market, are a treasure trove of handmade goods, from ceramics and woodwork to gourmet foods and organic produce. These markets not only offer a taste of the region’s artisanal talents but also provide a lively atmosphere where visitors can mingle with locals.

Discovering Nelson and its golden beaches opens up a world of natural splendor and artistic expression, encapsulating the essence of South Island New Zealand.

From the sun-kissed shores of Kaiteriteri Beach to the artistic alleys of Nelson’s city center, this region offers a rich tapestry of experiences for every traveler.

12. Relax in the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools

Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools

Nestled among the mountains and forests of the South Island, Hanmer Springs offers a sanctuary of relaxation and rejuvenation.

This alpine village, famous for its thermal pools, spas, and wellness retreats, is the perfect destination for those looking to unwind and reconnect with nature.

Hanmer Springs combines the healing properties of its natural hot springs with the tranquility of its surrounding landscapes, making it a must-visit spot in South Island New Zealand.

Thermal Pools, Spas, and Wellness Retreats

  • Thermal Pools: At the heart of Hanmer Springs is its iconic thermal pools complex, featuring a variety of hot pools that range from large outdoor pools to more secluded rock pools. The mineral-rich waters, naturally heated beneath the earth’s surface, are known for their therapeutic properties, offering relief and relaxation to weary travelers.
  • Spas and Wellness Retreats: Complementing the thermal pools, Hanmer Springs boasts a range of spas and wellness retreats that offer massages, facials, and holistic health treatments. These services are designed to enhance the relaxation experience, utilizing the natural setting and serenity of Hanmer Springs to promote healing and wellbeing.

Outdoor Activities like Mountain Biking and Forest Walks

Beyond the thermal pools and spas, Hanmer Springs invites adventure and outdoor enthusiasts to explore its stunning natural environment.

The area is crisscrossed with trails suitable for mountain biking and forest walks, offering something for all fitness levels.

  • Mountain Biking: With a variety of tracks ranging from easy scenic routes to challenging downhill paths, mountain biking in Hanmer Springs is a great way to experience the beauty of the region at your own pace. Bike rentals and guided tours are available, catering to both beginners and experienced riders.
  • Forest Walks: For those who prefer a more leisurely pace, the forest walks around Hanmer Springs offer a peaceful way to immerse oneself in the area’s natural beauty. Trails wind through lush forests, leading to lookouts with breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys. These walks vary in length and difficulty, providing options for casual strollers and serious hikers alike.

Relaxing in the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and engaging in the outdoor activities the area has to offer are ideal ways to experience the natural beauty and serenity of South Island New Zealand.

Whether soaking in the healing waters, indulging in a spa treatment, mountain biking through scenic landscapes, or enjoying a tranquil forest walk, Hanmer Springs delivers a holistic experience that nourishes the body, mind, and soul.


The South Island of New Zealand is a land of unmatched beauty, adventure, and cultural richness.

From the serene waters of Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park to the adrenaline-pumping activities in Queenstown, the island offers a diverse range of experiences that cater to every kind of traveler.

Whether it’s exploring the ancient glaciers of Franz Josef and Fox, delving into Maori culture in Canterbury, or star gazing in the clear skies above Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, the South Island invites you to connect with nature and history in profound ways.

We’ve journeyed through the historic city of Dunedin, with its splendid Victorian and Edwardian architecture, and traversed the breathtaking landscapes aboard the TranzAlpine train.

The golden beaches of Nelson beckon with their sun-soaked shores and artistic vibes, while the healing waters of Hanmer Springs offer a sanctuary of relaxation and rejuvenation.

Each destination on the South Island provides a unique window into the heart of New Zealand, showcasing the indomitable spirit of its landscapes and the warmth of its people.

The must-do activities and experiences highlighted in this article are just the beginning.

The South Island is a place where adventure lies around every corner, and the connection to the land runs deep.

It’s a place where you can hike through lush forests, kayak along pristine coastlines, and unwind in natural hot springs, all within the span of a few days.

The island’s rich tapestry of cultures, from the indigenous Maori to the waves of European settlers, adds layers of depth to the travel experience, offering insights into New Zealand’s heritage and identity.

As you plan your journey to South Island New Zealand, let this guide serve as a starting point for discovering the unparalleled beauty and adventure that awaits.

Whether you’re seeking solitude in nature, the thrill of adventure, or a deeper understanding of cultural heritage, the South Island offers an abundance of experiences that are sure to leave a lasting impression.

south island

FAQ’s About South Island New Zealand:

What is special about South Island New Zealand?

South Island New Zealand is celebrated for its stunning landscapes, which include some of the most diverse and breathtaking scenery in the world—from majestic mountains and fjords to lush rainforests and pristine beaches.

It’s a haven for adventure enthusiasts and nature lovers alike, offering activities such as hiking, skiing, bungee jumping, and kayaking.

The island also boasts rich cultural experiences, including Maori heritage sites and vibrant arts and food scenes, making it a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural richness.

How long does it take to drive around New Zealand South Island?

Driving around the South Island of New Zealand can take anywhere from 7 to 14 days, depending on the route taken and the time spent at each destination.

Covering the main attractions at a comfortable pace usually requires at least two weeks, allowing for a full appreciation of the island’s diverse landscapes and key points of interest without being rushed.

What is the most beautiful part of New Zealand?

While beauty is subjective, many consider Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound in the South Island to be among the most beautiful parts of New Zealand.

The dramatic landscapes of towering cliffs, deep fjords, and lush rainforests offer breathtaking views that are often described as some of the best natural scenery in the world.

What is the best way to see New Zealand South Island?

The best way to see South Island New Zealand is often through a combination of driving and taking guided tours.

Renting a car provides the flexibility to explore at one’s own pace, while guided tours can offer insights and access to areas that might be difficult to appreciate fully on one’s own, such as remote hiking trails or wildlife viewing spots.

For those seeking a unique perspective, scenic flights or cruises can also provide memorable views of the island’s landscapes.

How many days do you need to see South Island New Zealand?

To truly experience the diversity and beauty of South Island New Zealand, a minimum of 10 to 14 days is recommended.

This allows enough time to explore several key regions and attractions without feeling rushed, including visits to national parks, cultural sites, and various adventure activities.

Which is nicer North or South Island New Zealand?

The choice between North and South Island depends on personal preferences.

The North Island is known for its vibrant cities, Maori culture, geothermal areas, and beautiful beaches.

The South Island, on the other hand, is renowned for its dramatic landscapes, including mountains, fjords, glaciers, and lakes. Both islands offer unique experiences, making them both “nice” in their own ways.

When should I visit South Island NZ?

The best time to visit South Island NZ depends on the activities you’re interested in.

Summer (December to February) is ideal for hiking, kayaking, and other outdoor activities, with long days and warmer weather.

Winter (June to August) is perfect for skiing and snowboarding, especially in regions like Queenstown and Wanaka. S

houlder seasons (spring and autumn) offer fewer crowds and beautiful scenery, with spring (September to November) showcasing blooming wildflowers and autumn (March to May) featuring stunning fall foliage.

Is it worth driving from Auckland to Queenstown?

Driving from Auckland to Queenstown is a significant journey, covering over 1,500 kilometers and requiring at least 20 hours of driving time without stops.

While it’s a long drive, it offers the opportunity to see a wide variety of New Zealand’s landscapes.

However, for those with limited time, it might be more practical to fly directly to Queenstown and explore the South Island from there.

How much is the ferry from Wellington to South Island?

The ferry from Wellington to Picton (South Island) typically costs between NZ$50 to NZ$250 or more per person for a one-way trip, depending on the time of booking, type of ticket, and whether a vehicle is being transported.

Prices can vary widely, so it’s best to book in advance and check current rates with the ferry companies, Interislander and Bluebridge.

Where should I go for my first time in New Zealand?

For first-time visitors to New Zealand, starting with a few key destinations can provide a well-rounded experience.

In the South Island, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Abel Tasman National Park, and Christchurch are highly recommended for their stunning scenery and variety of activities. I

n the North Island, Auckland, Rotorua, and the Bay of Islands offer cultural experiences, geothermal wonders, and beautiful coastlines.

What is the cheapest time to visit New Zealand?

The cheapest time to visit New Zealand is during the shoulder seasons, from March to May (autumn) and September to November (spring).

During these times, there are fewer tourists, and prices for flights, accommodations, and some activities can be lower.

Weather is generally still pleasant, making it a great time to explore the country.

Are things expensive in New Zealand?

New Zealand can be considered expensive compared to many other countries, especially in terms of accommodation, dining out, and activities.

However, costs can vary depending on the region, season, and type of travel.

Budget travelers can find ways to save by staying in hostels, cooking their own meals, and enjoying the many free natural attractions.

Planning and booking in advance can also help manage expenses.

south island new zealand

(Island Expert)

Christian is a dynamic serial entrepreneur and a licensed real estate agent with a relentless passion for unlocking the potential of island real estate.Christian's expertise extends beyond entrepreneurship and property transactions.He possesses a profound expertise in crafting captivating content and persuasive copywriting tailored exclusively to the enchanting realm of island real estate.

Thanks for your enquiry.

Check your email shortly for the ebook download link.

Download Island Buyers Guide Ebook

Please fill in your details below and we will send you this ebook via email